The Best of the AACR Journals Collection: Author Profiles
Title & Affiliation:
Berle and Lucy Adams Chair in Cancer Research
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Clinical Scholar
Vice Chair, Academic Affairs, Department of Surgery, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Associate Director, Ocular Oncology, USC Roski Eye Institute, Keck School of Medicine of USC
Q: What is your primary area of study/research?
A: Ocular oncology, retinoblastoma, and uveal melanoma.
Q: What influenced your decision to embark on a research career?
A: I was first and foremost a surgeon, treating children with retinoblastoma, and found myself struggling with the lack of molecular data that could drive decision making for these young children with eye cancer. This is because unlike most tumors, retinoblastoma cannot be directly biopsied for risk of causing tumor spread outside the eye. However, as I looked at the broader field of oncology and all the exciting applications of precision medicine for treating cancers, I knew we would never be able to do this for retinoblastoma unless we attained tumor-derived molecular information. Thus, a liquid biopsy approach to this disease was enticing—but 40% of patients have cancer in BOTH eyes—thus a blood-based biopsy that is not able to differentiate between the different molecular biomarkers in each eye was not ideal for this disease. So, I turned in my surgical scrubs for a lab coat and began to investigate using the aqueous humor, an eye-specific ocular fluid, as a liquid biopsy for the eye. It has been immensely successful, and we have shown that as a liquid biopsy it contains significant tumor-derived DNA in high-enough concentration for detailed genomic analysis. In this study, we demonstrated that as a biomarker, gain of chromosome 6p portends an increased risk of loss of intraocular tumor control requiring removal of the eye to prevent spread of disease.
Q; What excites you most about your research area?
A: The kids! As a clinician, the translational side of research is really exciting to me. That the work we have done on this new aqueous humor liquid biopsy platform may one day (soon!) be used to guide clinical decision making for young children with retinoblastoma is absolutely the most wonderful and exciting aspect of this research.
Q: What do you do for fun outside of work? What are your passions and hobbies?
A: More kids! My husband and I have two girls: Daphne is almost 3 and Lilly is 6 months. They keep us busy—we often say we are low on sleep but high on joy. I love plants, particularly succulents, and yoga. I used to be an avid Peloton enthusiast too—working to get back to that postbaby. I also blog on life as a working surgeon-scientist-momma on Instagram as @_moda_md.